S-E-T Result-oriented Goals: Smarter than SMART Goals

Updated: May 8

In our last post, we pointed out a couple of drawbacks to the SMART goal setting formula that organizations have been following for more than 35 years.


For people who have adopted our Strategy-To-Execution (S2X™) framework, our SET Goals approach provides a simple, more effective approach. Let’s set the stage:


The first problem with goals in many organizations is that they just don’t exist. People perform the activities they think they are supposed to do and have no understanding of what those activities contribute to. Or, we find that the goals they do have are not connected to the organization’s strategy in any way.


When they do have goals, we often find that those goals are written in terms of the activities people perform, instead of what they are supposed to achieve. For example, does setting a goal for a salesperson to “make 50 sales calls per week” really help a company? The goal says nothing about what the salesperson should achieve with those 50 calls, or how the company should benefit from them.

So, organizations develop all kinds of SMART goals that don’t lead to actual results…which doesn’t seem so smart after all.


Result-Oriented Goals

Setting goals within the S2X framework changes the game. First, all goals are connected back to the organization’s strategy or key priorities. If the performer and the leader can’t see a direct line of sight to how the organization benefits from the goal, then the goal has to be changed.


Second, setting Result-oriented Goals define first what the performers must accomplish rather than the activities they must perform. Once the goals are defined in terms of end results, the performer can identify the high-impact activities that accomplish them. So, the actions they take have a crisp, clear purpose: hit the goals.

We have also found it more productive to focus on three common elements that result-oriented goals share, using the acronym S-E-T:


S is for the Starting Point

E is for the Ending Point

T is for the Time Frame.


That’s it. Where are we now, where do we want to be and how long do we have to get there? If you set every goal with these three elements in mind, your organization will benefit.

Strong leaders zero in on these elements. They identify and articulate the gaps between where an organization is and where it needs to be. Then they figure out how to close the gap.


Time Frame Focuses Energy and Attention

The time element is critical, for several reasons. There is no such thing as a goal without a time frame. If you set a goal without one, there is still an implicit time frame: Whenever you get around to it…which effectively means, “The deadline for this goal is NEVER.”

When you set a deadline, you focus your team’s energy and attention. Whether or not it’s spelled out in detail, your employees feel the progress toward achieving the goal. If the goal is to cut defects by 25% in three months, and two months in, defects are down only 8%, everyone knows you’re behind schedule – and they better pick it up.

There’s a subtler point: The time frame will often establish the priorities and scope for the project. The time frame guides the triage between your existing priorities and the new ones you just added with this goal.


SETting Result-oriented Goals can have a profound effect on the level of ownership team members take in accomplishing their goals. They place responsibility on the performer to achieve the end-results without mindlessly carrying out activities that don’t contribute to success. We’ve seen literally hundreds of cases across the whole gamut of organizations in which team members have taken the ownership to streamline their activities once they were clearly focused on Result-oriented Goals.


  • One production team slimmed a 27-step process down to 8 essential steps and produced better quality.

  • Countless sales people have dramatically altered their behaviors to focus on the most productive activities to boost sales and profits once they were clear on their goals.

  • Heck, we recently talked to the executive of an extensive multi-location business where he said they had recently “clarified,” in SET terms, the financial goals of their company. It had been under-performing for years. When they shared where the company had been and where they needed to get to, the whole focus and sense of urgency of their leadership team changed.

SET goals can be both simpler and smarter than SMART goals. Part of any great leader’s role is to define the gap between where your group is and where you want the group to be and then get the group to join you in the journey to close the gap(s).


SET goals make the gap simple, tangible and easy to see. And, they give team members both the responsibility and freedom to channel their efforts to the most effective actions.


That seems pretty smart!




Intrigued by what you’re reading? Download our white paper on converting strategy into execution and learn more about us by visiting our website. WhiteWater International Consulting, Inc. helps organizations understand the challenges they face and helps enterprises achieve and sustain outstanding performance through unleashing the passion and capabilities of its people. Because an organization is only as good at the people who power it.

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